Like a Tic-Tac for a Haemophiliac

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose9 Comments



I‘ve drawn this line in the sand before, and after my train ride today with one of my teacher friends, I realized just how inane merit pay is. Many of my favorite teacher colleagues on the Internet love the idea of merit pay, suggesting that this would go a long way towards keeping the “good” teachers in the system. They’re the ones that need the merit pay because it differentiates their work from another teacher’s. Furthermore, that additional salary is proof that there is a distinction between those that work hard in the building and those that don’t.

The latest and greatest proponent for the idea: none other than the man I lauded a few months back, President Barack Obama. Now, I’m fully aware of my audience, and how I’ll instantly be perceived as a hater for not backing the president 100%. I’m no Tavis Smiley, my people. I just have a hard time with Barack telling me that charter schools and merit pay are a large part of the solutions that will serve our nation’s children well. And to that end, I’m absolutely infuriated, my man.

Going back to this friend of mine on the train, we work in various teams in the school. For all intents and purposes, we’re some of the prominent teacher leaders in the building, going from meeting to meeting, traversing the school while teaching classes. We get extra money for these efforts whenever we go work after school. Thus, we’re getting a little bit more than other teachers who may do nothing after-school from per-session money. And yet, despite these efforts, our main preoccupation wasn’t our status as teacher nor our financial standing, but the conditions we work in. The massive amounts of paperwork, the lack of support, the professional development, and most importantly, the work conditions all contribute to the ever-growing complexities of an educational system replete with bureaucracy and turbulence.

All the pay in the world may make it easier to have our bills paid, and may sponsor a few more rounds of Blue Moon on weekends, but will it lead more teachers to want to do better? How will these teachers be judged? Do we have an effective schema where the work produced is judged subjectively? Is there real equity in the system that such a system could occur? Will charter schools with their no-union policies and (to put it nicely) uncanny policies about children make public schools the dumping ground for whoever they get to reject? Will charter school teachers be held to the same standard as NYC public school teachers? Will we finally employ national standards for core subject teachers?

Does it mean my kids don’t have to work part-time or wait for their parents until 11pm to get home? Does it mean their parents will find ways to instill the value of education in their children even when they’ve never actually graduated middle school in some cases? How is Obama going to address the reasons why many of our poor kids can’t compete with people in different districts, regions, or even other countries? For that matter, when will Obama talk about how these countries who supposedly “lead” us really have diminishing returns when we look at them academically? And do ALL their students have the same access to education the way many children have it here, even on the margins?

I have a lot more questions than answers at this point, and frankly, while I kept trying to think of ways that merit pay could work, I kept thinking about how these school buildings figuratively bleed for lack of actual treatment and responses to some of the problems that plague them system and nationwide.

And all we have for said patients is a freakin’ Tic Tac: a policy more ephemeral than institutional, more decorative than substantive. At least its breath smells nice right?


Jose, who finds Obama’s speech so amazing … and not in a good way …

Comments 9

  1. J, I agree with you.

    I ‘ll add one more reason why merit pay doesn’t work: It fractures collegiality. Teachers work in isolation as it is. Merit pay would only serve to force teachers to go deeper within their caves.

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  3. Hm. You’ve got me thinking.

    Is it for certain that merit pay has to be competitive? That all teachers in a school can’t receive it by meeting whatever the criteria are?

    If all teachers in a school can get it, then that may improve collegiality. I can’t wait to see the details of these plans. But they’ll differ state by state, district by district even. So hairy.

    (And fwiw, I’m thinking that merit pay can be conceived without being tied to test scores.)

  4. Can I confess that I’ve actually wondered about merit pay for parents? I can’t control what my students do at home but my own kids sure sit and do all of their work – on time – with extra time spent practicing clarinet… So? Do I get “merit pay” for raising children with 4.0 averages?

    I’m only half kidding. One of those days today…

  5. Post

    Here’s what I’d say:

    I’ve thought about the scenarios in which teachers could feasibly get merit pay where it’s not tied to test scores, and the best one in my mind is in terms of projects. They get a certain allotment, like a grant, to complete something for the school, whether it’s during school time or otherwise. That’s not competitive and it gives the teacher a sense of pride in some sort of work.

    But the “progressives” want to see it tied to test scores or through the “formal” assessments we give them, and the idea of such a measure would be ridiculous.

    And my main beef, Clay, isn’t so much about the competition between teachers. Right now, we probably have teachers competing against one another over test scores, teacher of the year awards, and the like. It’s just that, with all this talk about merit pay, no one wants to talk about the root causes for the deficiencies. Hence the tic-tac for a hemophiliac comment.

    But I hear both of you on your arguments, please believe.

  6. Post

    not fessin’ up, I think Chris Rock said it best and it relates to parents best: “So wait, you wanna get paid for something you should already be doing?! hahah”

  7. Then, of course, the question becomes what about the ones who aren’t? My own personal magic wand would give every child a parent who valued learning. Not even necessarily school-based, instilling a healthy curiosity and love of books (and blogs/blogging, researching, exploring nature…) That would be a good thing.

    In my own perfect world…

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  9. Hi,
    Can you correct the spelling on hemophiliac. I would like to link to this post of yours and I have misspelling bugs me jones. I am getting dizzy reading your blog. I have a little blog and yours is blowing me away.
    Loving it.

    Exeter, NH

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